Palin spans truth with ‘Bridge to Nowhere’ claim

Oops, she did it again. Accepting the Republican nomination for vice president Wednesday night in St. Paul, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin repeated a false claim about her opposition to the notorious Bridge to Nowhere, an emblematic boondoggle widely derided by foes of Congressional earmarks. In Palin’s speech to RNC delegates, she proudly asserted:

I suspended the state fuel tax, and championed reform to end the abuses of earmark spending by Congress.

I told the Congress “thanks, but no thanks,” for that Bridge to Nowhere.

If our state wanted a bridge, we’d build it ourselves.

It’s the identical claim she made Friday when John McCain introduced his running mate to a packed college gym in Dayton, Ohio.

Problem is, Palin only said “no thanks” more than two years after funding for the Bridge had evaporated. When it mattered, she was among the Bridge’s most avid proponents, wielding the earmark to sway Alaska voters in her gubernatorial run.

The Anchorage Daily News peers into Palin’s recent history to examine the chief claim Republicans are making that Palin is a “maverick.”

It’s true, she stood against the powerful Alaska political establishment by rejecting the Bridge to Nowhere — except that was after she wholeheartedly endorsed the Bridge and campaigned for governor by ridiculing Bridge opponents:

“I told Congress, thanks but no thanks on that bridge to nowhere,” Palin told the cheering McCain crowd, referring to Ketchikan’s Gravina Island bridge.

But Palin was for the Bridge to Nowhere before she was against it.

The Alaska governor campaigned in 2006 on a build-the-bridge platform, telling Ketchikan residents she felt their pain when politicians called them “nowhere.” They’re still feeling pain today in Ketchikan, over Palin’s subsequent decision to use the bridge funds for other projects — and over the timing of her announcement, which they say came in a pre-dawn press release that seemed aimed at national news deadlines.

The only principled stand Palin took on the Bridge was after it had become a national joke, after Congress yanked the earmark, and after Alaska received the money anyway, which Palin continued to urge should be spent on the Bridge when she was courting nearby voters.

In September, 2006, Palin showed up in Ketchikan on her gubernatorial campaign and said the bridge was essential for the town’s prosperity.

She said she could feel the town’s pain at being derided as a “nowhere” by prominent politicians, noting that her home town, Wasilla, had recently been insulted by the state Senate president, Ben Stevens.

“OK, you’ve got Valley trash standing here in the middle of nowhere,” Palin said, according to an account in the Ketchikan Daily News. “I think we’re going to make a good team as we progress that bridge project.”

One year later, Ketchikan’s Republican leaders said they were blindsided by Palin’s decision to pull the plug.

Some Alaska Republicans took the opportunity to call out Palin for touting her late opposition to the Bridge as a badge of fiscal conservatism:

Bert Stedman, a Sitka Republican who represents Ketchikan in the state Senate, told the Ketchikan Daily News he was proud to see Palin picked for the vice-president’s role, but disheartened by her reference to the bridge.

“In the role of governor, she should be pursuing a transportation policy that benefits the state of Alaska, (rather than) pandering to the southern 48,” he said.

Businessman Mike Elerding, who helped run Palin’s local campaign for governor, told the paper he would have a hard time voting for the McCain ticket because of Palin’s subsequent neglect of Ketchikan and her flip-flop on the “Ralph Bartholomew Veterans Memorial Bridge.”

(Ketchikan blogger Dick Kaufman relates the story how the Bridge to Nowhere got its official name in the late 1990s, and includes some lovely renderings of the proposed project.)

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Ernest Luning

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